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Almost Roughing it in Ellijay, GA

A glamping anniversary

Have you ever thought about camping but decided that a weekend in the woods in a leaky tent that smells like plastic and mildew with absolutely no creature comforts and just the clothes on your back does not sound like a good time? Maybe you’re not really into eating just what you can carry on your back, hunt, or catch? Foraging for food and clean water, building a fire from twigs and rocks, and finding your way with a compass does not sound appealing? And you definitely draw the line at pooping behind a tree?

Do you crave a oneness with nature but are too afraid of literally becoming “one with nature” (as in becoming bear poop and decomposing under a pine tree) that you just take a pass?

Is this how you feel about camping?

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Well, I have found the answer.

It's called "glamping."

Yes. You read that right: GLAMPING. As in Glamourous Camping.

Gone are the days where a campsite is simply a place to pitch a tent and dig a hole to poop in. These days, camping can mean plush bedding and gourmet food.

Glamping is not for the die-hard, freeze dried food eating, REI shopping, ultralight backpacking group of outdoors-people. No, glamping is for those of us who love nature, but do not love sleeping on the ground and trying to pee while holding oneself upright with a tree branch and praying you don’t dribble on your pants leg.

I have paid my dues. I have hiked 15 miles into the wild with a pack loaded with crap on my back in the snow with wet feet and blisters only to sleep on the ground with one eye open all night wondering if a bear was going to smell the cherry chapstick I forgot to take out of my pocket.

I learned the hard way that a two man pup tent does not come with two men. Or any puppies.

THIS is not fun:

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Neither is this:

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Nor this:

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Okay, this is a little fun, but not when you are doing it because you are in so much pain that you decide 6 miles of drunk hiking is worth the risk:

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I was ready for a different kind of camping experience.

Sleeping bags and granola bars are so 20th century.

Glamping is nature served on a silver platter.

Pack the fur throw and champagne, friends…..we’re going glamping!

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For as long as I can remember, the Resort at Paws Up just east of Missoula, MT has been on my wish list. A ridiculously indulgent blend of unsurpassed luxury and pristine wilderness, this glamping resort offers guests a stay in a posh safari-style tent with jaw dropping views and a plethora of wilderness experiences, not to mention a private chef and butler to draw your bath in your outdoor copper bathtub and lay out the s’mores while they pour your wine.

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Stolen Shamelessly from the Paws Up website

However, the $1800 a night price tag is likely to keep it on the wish list for a while.

Like, forever.

So, imagine my delight when I discovered a glamping resort just 93 miles (as the crow flies) from home, thanks to JoAnn Antonelli and Rick Lucas, who have created a whimsical retreat in the north Georgia mountains called the Martyn House.

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The Martyn House was born when JoAnn and Rick first stepped foot onto the 18 acre property in Ellijay, GA in 2007. The 1930’s farmhouse became their home. Later came Rick’s photography studio. Later came JoAnn’s art studio, lovingly built from the old barn that was in the final stages of collapse.

A trip to India provided the final inspiration, as Rick and JoAnn decided to bring their experience with the luxurious sleeping tents they stayed in in southern Rajistan to Georgia. Their bohemian chic tents are made from intricate Indian fabrics, with details like hand sewn mirrors and meticulous embroidery. The colors are bright and festive, giving an air of magic to each unique tent. Each tent is complete with antique furniture, cozy linens, working lights, bathrooms with on-demand hot showers and running water, a propane heater for extra cold nights, an in-room French press along with a supply of coffee and tea products, wine glasses and JoAnn’s handmade pottery mugs, and soaps that JoAnn makes herself. Each tent also has a covered front porch with twinkling string lights, perfect for curling up with a glass of wine at night or a hot cup of coffee on a chilly morning.

Rick and JoAnn are also amazing cooks and make incredible meals for guests, using many of the ingredients from their own garden.

I ran across the Martyn House totally by accident in my never ending search for “someplace new” on the interwebs. As soon as I saw the fairytale destination that Rick and JoAnn had created, I knew it was the perfect place to spend our 15th anniversary.

“We’re going GLAMPING!” I shouted enthusiastically at Matt as he came home one evening.

“For our anniversary. GLAMPING!”

He stared at me, obviously not comprehending how stupendously awesome this decision was.

I heard crickets.

“GLAMPING!” I said again, arms wide and waving with all the enthusiasm I was trying to shove from my brain into his brain.

“Huh?”

He blinked.

It was like I was speaking Chinese.

“Fancy camping. We’re going fancy camping.”

“Yeah, okay,” he said as he went back to checking the mail.

Okay, so maybe he wasn’t as inspired as I was, but that was just because he didn’t know yet.

Martyn House was going to be perfect.

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The first thing I saw as we pulled down the driveway was the lion that was charging our vehicle.

“OH MY GOD!” I shouted to Matt. “Roll up the window!”

It was too late. Within minutes, I saw nothing but giant golden paws and fur and teeth mauling my husband of 15 years.

As I looked over at Matt’s grin, I remembered we were not, in fact, on our way to our Abercrombie & Kent campsite in the Serengeti, but were in Ellijay, GA and this was not a lion, but the biggest golden retriever in the universe with his wiggly body halfway inside our rental car while giving Matt a tongue bath.

We had just met Hank, the 91 lb. baby of the Martyn House family.

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Just behind Hank were Maya, the yellow lab, and Grace, the black lab…just as wiggly and welcoming.

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Off to the side, a flash of yellow caught my eye. No, not a tiger, but I don’t think he knows that.

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Milo the cat was hiding in the grass watching from a distance.

Otis, the other cat, was not as shy and immediately came to say “hello.”

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Throw in some heirloom chickens, one giant rooster, and a couple of unconventional artists and you have the wonderful cast that makes up the Martyn House.

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It was the opening weekend of their glamping season and we were the only guests. We had the entire place to ourselves.

As Rick gave us the grand tour, a parade of dogs and cats trailing behind us….I knew this was going to be a wonderful weekend.

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On the way to our tent, we stopped at Rick’s studio where he had Matt sample his new beer making project. As Matt two fisted some craft beer, I knew Matt thought this was going to be a wonderful weekend too.

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Rick also gave us a tour of JoAnn's studio, where she makes pottery and handmade bath products, or whatever suits her creative fancy. The studio was warm and inviting. As it turns out, guests can even stay in the studio.

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We also visited the chicken coop and the outdoor tent where JoAnn and Rick have created an amazing outdoor living space. They host many of their group dinners here. It had an outdoor bar, a dining area, a cozy hammock, and a living area with vintage pillows and throws. Next to it was a colorful fire pit for chilly nights.

Seriously, could this place be any more awesome?

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Even the port-a-potties were cute. I never thought I'd find myself thinking the words, "I can't wait to use that outdoor toilet."

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As we wandered down the wooded path away from the main house, I could see 4 tents scattered at a distance from each other in the woods. Each one was placed to allow it ample privacy from the others.

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I immediately fell in love with our tent: Ridge Roost.

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The gorgeous black and white striped tent stood in fanciful contrast to the early-April forest around it.

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With a cozy porch, a king sized bed covered with beautiful linens, a free cat, a full bathroom with running water and a hot shower, and a jovial guard dog to keep the raccoons at bay…what more could we want?

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How about an outdoor bathtub?

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The spell was complete. We were enchanted. Even Matt was excited. Probably because he realized at some point I was going to take off my clothes and get in a bathtub in the woods…but whatever. He was excited.

Unable to tear ourselves away from our glampsite, we did nothing but chill out in our tent for a while.

No TV. No internet. No sound but the wind in the trees and an occasional bird.

It was perfect.

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We were having dinner at the Martyn House that night, so we decided to grab lunch in the nearby town of Blue Ridge. We have eaten at Harvest on Main, a wonderful little restaurant there, on several occasions and always try to stop in when we are anywhere nearby.

Blue Ridge is a charming little mountain town. It’s adorable streets are lined with quaint shops, art galleries, and cafes.

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Harvest on Main is a cozy, rustic restaurant that reminds me of something we’d find in Montana, not in north Georgia. The first things you smell when you walk inside are their house smoked meats. The scent mingles with the smell of fresh baked bread and creates the most welcoming atmosphere you can imagine.

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We started off with their baked brie, blue crab, and cilantro casserole served with warm corn chips.

Just as we were licking the last of the warm, creamy melted sour cream, cream cheese, and brie from the dish, we were brought two house salads with their delightful pickled green beans.

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For entrees, I had the amberjack over their house chickpea stew topped with sauteed spinach, and Matt had the local trout served on top of their house-made corned beef hash (house-smoked corned beef, sweet potatoes, & onions) and topped with lemon-pickled onions and arugula.

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Just to make sure we didn’t leave before eating everything on the menu, we had the chocolate pudding cake with vanilla ice cream. The moist cake was layered with what tasted like a hazelnut cream cheese filling and topped with caramel drizzle and pecans.

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Because a day of sloth and gluttony is best enjoyed with a glass of wine, we headed back to the Martyn House and took a take a pre-dinner walk down to Grace’s pond with a bottle of wine to find the “outdoor living room” Rick had told us about.

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Rick and JoAnn have taken “creative loafing spaces” to an entirely new level. In every nook and cranny of their property, there is another cozy place to curl up with a glass of wine, a good book, or a wet dog as the case may be.

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Maya was obviously embarrassed by her overly exuberant leap into the pond, so she put herself in time out in the corner until she was dry. Sweet Maya.

We had opted for a private dinner on the farm that night, but the weather forecast was calling for storms and I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d get rained out. We pulled on the wellies, grabbed the umbrella, and hoped for the best.

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We shouldn’t have worried. Rick and JoAnn had us set up in the dry on their porch, complete with vintage linens, a glowing chandelier, and the romantic flicker of candles.

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The rain held off as we enjoyed a starter of roasted red eggplant with feta cheese. The eggplant was perfectly charred on the edge, soft in the center, and topped with savory cheese.

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This was followed by what Matt referred to as “the best salad I’ve ever had.” The salad had pickled garlic, local smoked bacon, olives, goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, and fresh green beans.

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This is Matt’s “stop taking pictures of me while I eat” face:

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For our main dish, Rick brought us a deliciously fried chicken breast on top of rustic mashed potatoes with roasted broccoli and cherry tomatoes.

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Dessert? Of course we did. A raspberry sorbet with chocolate.

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As we scooped the last of the sorbet from our dishes, Rick was lighting a fire for us where we enjoyed champagne and roasted marshmallows as we watched the distant lightening grow closer and closer.

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We ran back to the tent when the thunder started, wondering if we’d make it back before the storms. The tent looked even prettier at night.

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We turned on our electric candles (because real candles and cotton tents go together like Kanye West and Taylor Swift) and climbed into the big, cozy bed. The sheets were soft and smelled like fresh laundry. The down pillows were perfectly plush. The tent had flaps that could be lowered with ropes and secured for windows and a door if we wanted the tent secured, but we wanted to feel the cool night air so we left them open, leaving a secure mesh screen to keep the bugs out.

When the rain started, I worried we might get blown away. This was no 10 minute rain shower. This was a full-on, raining-like-there-was-no-tomorrow downpour that lasted for hours with wind and thunder and lightning. We couldn’t have ordered a more magical experience if we’d had the weather gods on speed dial.

It was remarkable. The sound of the rain pounding on the roof of our tent and the fresh-electric smell of the storm outside while we were cozy and warm under piles of soft blankets was simply mind blowing.

The best part of glamping vs. camping in a rainstorm? The story doesn’t end with ….”and then the tent blew away.”

We were snug as two bugs in a rug.

We fell asleep to the sound of the rain beating rhythmically on the roof.

It was around 2:00 a.m. when I was awakened by a sound under the bed. My first thought was, “Rooby and Bella might need to go outside,” and then I remembered I wasn’t at home.

I was in a tent.

In the woods.

And something was thumping around under my bed.

It’s all fun and glamping until you wake up with a possum under your bed.

I did what any strong, modern, capable woman would do.

I woke Matt up.

“There is something under the bed,” I hissed, shoving the flashlight from my nightstand at him.

“What do you want ME to do about it?” he hissed back.

“Get it OUT,” I whispered.

As I sat holding my electric candle, prepared to beat something off his face should he come back up with fangs and claws attached to his skull, Matt peered cautiously over the edge of the bed.

And laughed.

“It’s Hank,” he said. “He must have snuck in after we went to sleep.”

I never thought I’d be happy to have a 91 lb. dog under my bed. At least I didn’t have to worry about possums.

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The next morning was a chilly 48 degrees. We had slept with the windows open so that we could enjoy the cozy bed and the storm. The morning air was crisp and cool, so Matt fired up the heater. The tent was warm in minutes.

Our tent had an electric pot for heating water and a French press with coffee, hot teas, sugar, and creamer. We had coffee and cocoa on the front porch watching the sun peek out through the trees.

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Breakfast is provided by Rick and JoAnn every morning, so we made our way to the farmhouse around 8:30. Because it was only the two of us, Rick served us breakfast on the cozy porch again.

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He started us off with homemade smoothies and fresh fruit.

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Then it was hot coffee and toasted English muffins with jam and butter.

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Finally, he brought omelets made with cheddar cheese, spinach, and mushrooms and a platter of local bacon. There is no picture of the bacon because I ate it all.

I really like bacon.

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We didn’t have a very ambitious itinerary, which was good because I was lethargic from all the bacon.

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We strolled around the quaint town of Ellijay, checking out its cute shops.

There are a lot of things to do near Ellijay – countless wineries, farms, orchards, and scenic drives….but we managed not to do ANY of those things because we really just wanted to get back to the Martyn House.

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There was an outdoor bathtub with my name on it.

But not before we had lunch. What? Do you think we are CRAZY?

We stopped in at 1907 for a wine-fueled lunch of smoked trout dip, a fried green tomato burger with bacon and pimento cheese, and apple crumble with salted caramel sauce. No, that was not shared. That was just MY meal.

Matt had some more trout. I was starting to think he had a trout problem.

When in north GA.....have the trout?

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This is the owner, Wayne Sloop. He came out to pose for a very enthusiastic photo.

Whew.

I was worried that he knew I had stolen 10 of those delicious burgers and had them in my pocket.

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Oh wait. That was only in my head. Kind of like when someone runs over you in the grocery store aisle and you cuss them out in your head but in reality you find yourself apologizing to them for being made of actual matter and for not being able to read their mind so that you wouldn't be standing where they wanted to walk without looking first.

All I really had in my pocket was my lens cap. Darn it.

When we got back to the Martyn House, the sun was shining on a beautiful 80 degree afternoon. We took advantage of the beautiful weather and just enjoyed our surroundings.

With wine.

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And then there was that bathtub.

I could not pass up the opportunity to take a bath in the woods.

Bathtub in the woods + bubble bath + champagne = best bath EVER

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Seriously one of my favorite life experiences of all time. It was like skinny dipping, but with bubble bath and warm water. And without my irrational fear of leeches.

A couple of years ago, Rick and JoAnn bought an old building in downtown Ellijay that became one part coffee shop, one part art gallery, and one part live music venue. On Saturday nights, they host live music and dinner in their “listening room.” We had decided to have dinner there that night because it gave me a reason to pack boots with 4 inch heels on a camping trip.

Seriously, what's the point of glamping if you can't pack heels?????

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In Towne, their coffee shop and bistro, was as charming and visually appealing as the Martyn House. Each space was unique and eclectic, filled with original art, their own special style, and a sprinkle of sunshine.

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On Saturday nights, they offer a small menu for dinner to be served while you listen to a 2 hour live music show. It’s BYOB, so we were able to take our own wine for a modest $5 corking fee. We ordered at the counter in the coffee shop, dropped off our bottles of wine, grabbed some lemon infused water in colorful mason jars, and found our way to the cozy listening room. When we ordered, we were given a table number. The tables were covered in brown butcher paper with the numbers on top and warm, inviting candles beckoning us inside.

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Still pretty full from that mammoth burger at 1907, I thought I was “ordering light” (yes, I know – Vicki Ordering Light is as much an oxymoron as Vegetarian McDonald’s) when I asked for the “fish stew.”

The hearty stew had 3 giant fillets of meaty fish in it and was topped off with a crazy good slab of buttery toasted bread.

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That's when I remembered that eating light is for wimps.

So I ordered dessert.

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Matt had the trout and double chocolate cake, but I didn’t get a picture because because all the trout was getting weird (and maybe because I had whipped cream all over my hands).

Nate Currin, the artist of the night, entertained us for two hours with his warm stories and wonderful music. Maybe it was the second bottle of wine talking, but we thought he was pretty darn good.

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When we cozied in for the night in our tent, we decided to close the windows and zip the door because it was going down to 32 degrees. While we liked sleeping in the cool air, 32 degrees crossed the line from “cozy” to “crazy,” so we turned the heater on low enough to keep it cool, but ensure we didn’t wake up with icicles in our noses.

The zipped door kept Hank out, but it didn’t keep Otis out. Otis made it immediately clear that he'd be sleeping with us thankyouverymuch.

I guess he doesn’t like icicles in his nose either.

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We woke to another perfectly beautiful day. Our days had been warm and sunny, our nights cold and crisp, perfect glamping weather!

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Rick had breakfast waiting for us on the porch again.

More homemade smoothies:

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Then it was stoneground grits, local sausage, focaccia bread, and scrambled eggs with avocados.

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Martyn House had been everything I hoped for. It has been magical, fanciful, and enchanting. It had been luxurious and indulgent. It was romantic and private. We ate meals on a fantasy porch, we sipped wine in fairy tale tents, we snuggled under fur blankets while listening to the sound of the wind and rain whipping through the trees, we woke to the sounds of birds and had coffee with the forest, we followed paths to secret corners with tree stump tables and crystal chandeliers, we found our way home at night guided by twinkling string lights and the full moon.

I ate slowly, not wanting to break the spell.

It was almost midnight and my carriage was about to turn back into a pumpkin. A quick flight home would bring work and deadlines, a house that needed to be cleaned, and groceries to buy.

But it was still morning, and I was still Cinderella and I was going to live like there was no midnight.

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Posted by vicki_h 13:00 Archived in USA Tagged camping georgia glamping blue_ridge ellijay martyn_house Comments (3)

Key West.... One Bite at a Time

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To everything there is a season.

A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

There is also a time to eat.

Let's face it, I love to eat. Especially on vacation. When I am on vacation, I eat like a bear that has just come out of hibernation. A bear with a sweet tooth. And who may be a wino.

When we found ourselves in Key West for a long weekend in January, it seemed like the perfect time to do just that. Temps were balmy, in the mid 70s. Warm enough for shorts, but not warm enough for the beach. So, unless we wanted to spend 3 days looking at Hemingway's 6 toed cats, we had a lot of time to fill.

I had planned the trip to coincide with the annual Key West Food and Wine Festival, but after realizing our travel companions don't really like wine, I decided to forgo most of the Festival events and create my OWN Food and Wine Festival.

It was to be 3 days of strategic eating. I had an EATING ITINERARY, people. The food fest was about to be ON.

There is nothing better than an eating vacation.

Let the eating begin!

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"Pace yourselves, " I cautioned. "You don't want to eat too much at any one place."

We were behind schedule.

We had arrived in Key West on time....landing just before noon on a clear, breezy Wednesday.

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The trouble came in when Key West Hideaways couldn't seem to send the shuttle picking us up to the right place. Key West Hideaways had convinced us to let them arrange for our bicycle rentals, telling us they would send a free shuttle from the bike place to pick us up from the airport. As soon as I heard the words "free shuttle," I was convinced.

They sent the shuttle to the commercial airport, although we had told them we would be at the general aviation FBO. After several confused phone calls between me and the shuttle driver, he finally found us.

However, the real confusion came in when he turned out to be from the wrong bicycle company. He dropped us off at the bike office and left. Unfortunately, no one at the bike company had any idea who we were. There was no record of our reservation. I had paid a deposit, so simply changing rental companies wasn't an option. Six very unproductive phone calls back and forth with an extremely rude and unhelpful young lady at Key West Hideaways who kept insisting "that is the only bicycle company we do business with so you must be mistaken about your deposit," and we were unceremoniously dumped on the sidewalk with our luggage like hobos.

With no ride.

As luck would have it, I got a call from the ACTUAL bike company that Key West Hideaways had booked us with asking what time we wanted the bikes delivered. And it WAS NOT the one the young lady kept insisting "is the only bicycle company we do business with." I asked him if he could pick us up. He said he would be there in 5 minutes.

Fifteen minutes later, we were still on the sidewalk with our luggage like hobos.

I called him back.

He said Key West Hideaways had called him and told him not to come pick us up. They were sending someone.

Son of a B*%$#.

Two more phone calls to Key West Hideaways, and a rangy late model mercedes with a "For Sale" sign tacked in each window pulled up.

Thankfully, it was not the young woman I had spoken to, because there would have likely been bloodshed, right there on South Street in front of all the nice people who were sipping their Cuban coffees at the cafe next door.

He was polite and apologetic and made several lame excuses about the confusion. And about the fact that we had to cram our bodies in on top of our luggage in the tiny back seat. Steve's leg was at an unnatural angle that I was pretty sure was going to cut off the circulation to his foot. I hoped the ride was short so that amputation of a limb wouldn't be necessary.

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As we rode through the streets of Key West, someone from the bicycle company called me again.

"I'm over here at 828 Olivia to deliver the bikes, but no one is here," he said.

"That's because Key West Hideaways gave you the wrong address. We are at 1019 Varela," I sighed.

We were finally dropped off at the correct house and got our bikes at the correct address, no thanks to Key West Hideaways. But we had lost an hour.

Our eating schedule was now behind.

Oh, the horror.

"Where are we going?" Matt said as we walked down White Street, "I'm seriously hungry." In anticipation of the impending calorie-fest none of us had eaten breakfast and it was going on 2:00.

"Not far," I responded. "See? Right there." I pointed to the Chevron Station.

"What? Where? I only see a gas station," Matt said. He was getting grouchy, like a hungry toddler that missed out on the graham crackers during story hour.

"Yeah. The Chevron Station," I said.

"We're not eating at the gas station," Matt replied.

"Oh yes we are."

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At the corner of White and Truman, right next to the bathrooms in the Chevron parking lot, we found White Street Station, a colorful food truck surrounded by tropical plants and brightly colored drums in the parking lot of the Chevron Station. We put our things on a yellow wooden bench next to a red ironing board that served as a table and walked up to the window to order.

"All of our fish is fresh, just caught," he said, "The fish tacos are excellent. I also recommend the Orzo as a side today. It's really good."

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Matt couldn't resist the fish tacos. The fish was insanely fresh and was prepared Caribbean style, topped with mango and black beans.

Fish Tacos almost sounded healthy to me, so I opted for the daily special: the Grilled Mac.......two giant crusty slices of Texas toast layered with American cheese and wrapped around a creamy slab of macaroni and cheese atop a pile of tender, braised short rib.

Oh my yumminess.

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Matt stopped complaining about the Chevron Station when he realized he could run inside for a beer.

With the hunger monster quieted for a few hours, we took the time to head back to Mango Cottage and settle in. Despite being less than pleased with the rental company so far, we did love the cottage. It was squeaky clean, newly renovated, and cute, cute, cute.

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Until we lifted the cover on the hot tub. It was filled with funky green water.

Have you ever heard the story about the farmer and the mule?

A farmer had a really stubborn mule. He was out trying to plow the fields one day and the mule wouldn't budge. He looked at the mule and said, "That's one." After the plowing for a while, the mule stubbed up again, refusing to move. "That's two," the farmer said. As the day grew long and the mule grew tired, he bucked up on the farmer again. This time the farmer didn't say anything, but pulled out his shotgun and shot the mule dead. As the farmer came into the farmhouse that night, tired and dirty, he looked at his wife and asked for dinner. "It's not ready," she said flippantly. The farmer looked at his wife. "That's one," he said.

Key West Hideaways? That's two.

The one absolute when we are on Key West is Matt's daily visit to some place for oyster happy hour. It's as certain as death and taxes.

So we found ourselves at the White Tarpon late in the afternoon. The oysters are no longer 50 cents all day, but $1 an oyster still wasn't too bad, especially considering how large and fresh the oysters were. Matt was definitely in his happy place.

A key lime martini quickly put me in my happy place as well. Although, my happy place is pretty easy. It pretty much includes any place with cupcakes, cocktails, pork rinds, or half price shoes.

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We had early dinner reservations at Hot Tin Roof, hoping to eat dinner to a beautiful sunset.

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The meal started off with delightful cocktails: a Hemingway daiquiri and the best caipirinha I have had outside of Brazil.

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As we perused the menu, the sun began to sink its way toward the sea. Seated on the outdoor porch, we watched it go down in a blazing ball of orange.

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Then the food orgy began:

We started with creamy melted manchego cheese topped with spicy chorizo and pico de gallo served with warm tortillas and a steamy bowl of mussels.

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As the sky turned from fiery orange to cool shades of blue, we discovered that our menus were illuminated. After a couple of cocktails, a lighted menu is fabulous entertainment.

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Next up was the lobster cocktail with roasted corn guacamole, cumin crema, and yukon chips; caramelized grouper with chorizo, corn, carrots, red pepper, poblano, and coconut; and a pan of lobster mac and cheese with creamy manchego cheese.

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After dinner, we headed to The Porch for cocktails. Even though it was located right off crazy Duval Street, it seemed a quiet oasis far from the throngs of people with their big gulp frozen daiquiris and Sloppy Joes t-shirts. As we entered the front door of the old house, a bar to the left was serving up craft beer and a bar to the right was dreaming up creative craft cocktails. This made everyone happy.

This bar was different from the "Duval Crawl" bars of Key West. It was cozy and cool, quiet, and the cocktails were a knockout. My banana bread bourbon old fashioned was crafted slowly, with care, and was absolutely fantastic.

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Did a man in a sparkly tutu walk into The Porch while we were enjoying our cocktails? Maybe he did, but we were still in Key West, after all.

We decided to make one final stop before heading home, and the Green Parrot it was. I needed popcorn, bad lighting, a hint of danger, and an atmosphere that promised at least the chance of a bar fight to make my evening complete. The Green Parrot is the perfect dive bar. It's a dive, without being too, well, divey. It's just gritty enough to be interesting, but still more charming than squalid.

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In hindsight, we probably should have skipped that final stop. I think that "one last drink" was how I ended up with a gorgeous headache the next morning and a tote bag filled with popcorn.

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I woke up early the next morning. It was before sunrise so I decided to grab some Cuban toast and cafe con leche at Sandy's on the corner and pedal my way down to White Pier, just a few blocks from the house.

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I would love to show you some glorious photos of that sunrise, but, while I managed to lug my 7 lb. camera all the way down there, I forgot the battery.

I blame it on the Green Parrot.

All I have is this crappy iPhone photo:

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Before long it was time for second breakfast, or was it pre-lunch? Whatever it was, we were going to do it up proper at Blue Heaven. I never tire of the colorful courtyard atmosphere and lively bar. On this particular morning, they had live Reggae and for a moment, I felt like I was in the breezy Caribbean.

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While we waited for our table, I wandered upstairs, simply curious what was up there. It turned out to be the overflow seating area. Colorful tables, eclectic decor, and this super cute little private room:

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We were seated in the courtyard with chickens running nervously around our feet, cats lazily sunning themselves on the metal roofs, and the sounds of the Reggae band drifting over on air that smelled like pancakes and home fries.

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Matt had the BLT Benedict. Not to be confused with the traditional meaning of BLT, at Blue Heaven, BLT means "Bacon, Lobster, and Tomato."

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Because I felt like I had already eaten breakfast, with the thick slices of buttery Cuban toast I scarfed down on the pier, I opted for lunch. The Caribbean plate came with tender lobster cooked in wine, butter, and spices and served with Blue Heaven's key lime hollandaise sauce; savory black beans; rice; asparagus; tangy cole slaw; and a slab of moist cornbread.

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Of course we couldn't leave without a couple of slices of their mile high key lime pie.

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We then took Steve and Alison on a bicycle tour of Key West.

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We ended up at the Martello Tower where we took a quick tour of the Key West Garden Club's beautiful oceanfront garden.

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All that pedaling made us hungry. It was oyster o'clock, so we headed back to the White Tarpon. This time, I got my own platter of ice cold oysters and washed them down with a hard cider.

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Matt is going to be sorry he encouraged me to eat oysters. If I really get hooked on them, he's either going to get to eat 1/2 as many or pay twice as much.

Truth is, I didn't really even WANT the oysters. I don't LIKE oysters. I was just eating at this point to be eating. A vicious cycle was starting to take hold: get up, eat, ride bikes, eat, walk around and shop, eat, drink cocktails, eat, watch the sunset, eat. Before it was over, I would be eating in my sleep.

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That evening, we had tickets to one of the two Food and Wine Festival events I had decided our friends would probably like: Henry Flagler's Welcome Party at Casa Marina.

Okay, who am I kidding? I didn't care if they liked it or not, I just wanted to see the beach at this gorgeous resort. It was not disappointing.

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The KWFWF had set up a nice soiree right on the beach at sunset, complete with live band, wine flowing like water, and twinkling lights hanging from the palm trees.

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The snacks were pretty good too: a pastry of baked brie with figs, specialty pizzas, cheeses, and a carving station with mountains of fried onions. Yes, there was some meat too, but did you see all those fried onions????? Who can concentrate on meat when there are UNLIMITED FRIED ONIONS?

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After a dozen oysters, two slices of pizza, countless glasses of wine, tender beef with a crusty roll, a mountain of fried onions, and enough cheese to constipate a horse, most people would have called that dinner.

But we were on a mission.

So we waddled our gluttonous selves away from Casa Marina with no shame and headed to the Rum Bar to sip their delicious painkillers until we thought we could handle more food.

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It wasn't long before we were ready for dinner at Square One, a short walk from the Rum Bar.

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Their creative cocktails were a hit. Mine was a Bufala Negra: fresh basil, balsamic vinegar (yes...vinegar!), agave nectar, ginger beer, and bourbon. It was quirky, but delightful.

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We then severely overordered. And overate.

There were soft little pretzel bites with savory herb butter.

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There were pork potstickers with pineapple hoisin sauce and a massive platter of lobster cobb salad with arugula, fresh tender lobster, crispy pancetta, egg, avocado, roasted corn, manchego cheese, and a togarashi ranch.

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There were pulled cuban pork sliders with sweet plantains and red onion marmalade on pretzel buns with crispy fries and a lobster roll with shredded lettuce on a pretzel hogie.

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There were shrimp and grits with spicy poblano peppers, manchego cheese, and caramelized corn butter and a pound of drunken mussels cooked in vermouth, fresh herbs, and shallots.

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Too full to go to bed, we ended the evening with cocktails at Point5, the upstairs bar at Nine One Five on Duval Street. The breezy front balcony was a perfect place to watch all that was coming and going along Duval.

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Eventually our choices narrowed to 1) stomach pump or 2) go to bed, so we called it a night.

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We woke up the morning and did a group cheer to get us psyched up for the day's eat fest.

It started at Firefly on Petronia. Their menu promised all manner of fried goodness, and they delivered. We started off with mango mimosas, to wash it all down and then ordered all the fried things we could find on the menu.

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Fried okra, deep fried mini corndogs, and deliciously cheesy stuffed peppers.

Then fried chicken and waffles, fried chicken and biscuits, and fried crab beignets on a bun with crazy good garlic fries.

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Oh....and then there was that one person who ordered a salad. I think she was starting to feel guilty about what she was doing to her internal organs, but never mind her. We would get her back on the food train before the day was over.

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The will is weak.

Especially when tater tots are on the menu.

The guys had decided their new favorite place was the Rum Bar so we headed that way. If I learned one thing on the island of Jost Van Dyke, home of the Soggy Dollar Bar and home of the painkiller, it is that it is never too early for a painkiller.

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We spent the day shopping up and down Key West's quaint streets in between snacks. We had decided that the best way to see the sights was on the way to and from our eating opportunities. If we followed the food, we'd naturally see the sights along the way. We wanted to see Hemingway's House. Did we pay admission and take a tour? Of course not. We snapped a selfie by the gate on the way to Firefly for a mango mimosa and a plate of fried okra. Just like we grabbed a walking photo of the harbor and the boats as we made our way to Half Shell for a pound of beer steamed shrimp and grabbed a glimpse of the Southernmost Point as we made a quick detour on our way to the Rum Bar for painkillers.

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It had been almost 3 hours since we'd had anything to eat and it was making me nervous. Certain that my stomach would shrink, we needed food and we needed it fast. As luck would have it, it was oyster happy hour.

We decided to try Pepe's for oysters just for a change of scenery, if nothing else.

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I liked Pepe's oysters best. They were served with lime instead of lemon and their house made cocktail sauce was so thick and chunky it was more like salsa. Paired with one of Pepe's hand squeezed margaritas, it was afternoon perfection.

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Since it was their first visit to Key West, we wanted Steve and Alison to enjoy a proper Key West sunset. That meant NOT at the sunset celebration where they could only catch a brief glimpse of it obstructed by 27 boats as they peered around the back of a guy with a combover and a Patriots jersey who was busy watching a guy juggle fire. Don't get me wrong, I love the festiveness of the sunset celebration, but it's not ideal if you actually want to SEE THE SUNSET.

We had done the Commotion on the Ocean sunset cruise on our first trip to Key West and, despite the total cheese factor of it, I loved it. It was not a classy affair, but I knew that. Bad wine and cheap beer were served in plastic glasses, cheap deli trays from the local supermarket lined the counter promising "free eats" as the smell of old grease filled the air. I was pretty sure I could smell cheap meatballs and frozen chicken wings cooking somewhere. The boat was also crammed with bodies. Bodies everywhere and all of them clutching a plastic solo cup of boxed wine.

I still loved it.

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The band was good, the sunset was amazing, and the atmosphere was the kind of cheap fun you can only have at a frat party or, if you are over 22, on a cheesy party boat. I can't explain it. I loved it the same way I love the $1.09 bean burrito at Taco Bell or the way I love watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians when no one is looking.

As we boarded the boat, I promised myself I would enjoy the band and the sunset but I would not drink the bad drinks on the boat.

Three glasses of boxed wine in a solo cup later I found myself enthusiastically accepting a crappy margarita like it was heaven's nectar handed to me from an angel. It was even worse than the boxed wine. I drank it anyway.

We watched the sun as it made its way toward the horizon.

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Before I knew it, I was drinking cheap champagne out of a plastic cup.

What is it they say? Wine before liquor? Never been sicker? Or is that beer? Did it matter? I was pretty sure I was going to be sorry I drank from the "Cup of Gallo" no matter what order I did it in.

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As the boat made its way back toward the harbor, the band cranked out oldies. Everyone was smiling and drinking champagne, snapping selfies in front of the fiery sky, laughing, having a good time. It was lovely.

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And then they played Rocky Top.

My friends, you always know who the hillbillies in the group are when the band starts to play Rocky Top.

If you are from East Tennessee, and you hear Rocky Top, it doesn't matter where you are or what you are doing. You can be in church, at a funeral, or walking through the mall and you are instantly and inexplicably compelled to start singing at the top of your lungs and throwing in a lot of "Yee Haws" for good measure.

Or maybe it was just the boxed wine singing.

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There was only one thing that could follow Rocky Top: tequila shots.

I mean, what better to do after drinking cheap wine, cheaper champagne and a margarita made with bottom shelf liquor?

We got off the boat and found Agave 308. The decor was creepy and dark, but in a fun way. I liked it.

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With absolutely no plans for dinner, we wandered in search of Garbo's. Or was it Grunt's? Garbo's at Grunt's? We weren't sure. I just knew they were supposed to have great tacos. We found what we thought was Grunt's and wandered around looking for something that appeared to be serving tacos. I did see what appeared to be a stand of some sort in the back, but there was nothing making it obvious that you could get food there. I also saw a sign shouting "Tennessee Steve's BBQ" with an arrow that confusingly terminated in a chain link fence.

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Unfortunately, the Grunt's / Garbo's set up seemed designed for those in the know and was simply confusing as hell for a group of people who had consumed entirely too much boxed wine and cheap tequila, so we made our exit, and headed straight for the predictable safety of Amigo's.

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Not only did they have tacos, they had tater tots.

And fire roasted corn.

And GOOD margaritas.

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Because we NEEDED another drink.

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The following morning, we all made it a point to get up in time for the sunrise. This is not hard to do when you fall asleep at 10:30 pm. It is hard to do if that early sleep was induced by a tater tot and tequila coma.

We grabbed hot coffee at Sandy's and rode our bikes to the pier to watch the sunrise.

It was spectacular.

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A sunrise that spectacular called for a hearty breakfast, so we headed to Camille's at the recommendation of our surly waiter at Pepe's the night before.

We hopped on the bikes and headed that way.

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Camille's was kitschy cool. With orange sherbet walls, vintage movie posters, and a smattering of quirky nicknacks, Camille's was one part crazy old Aunt Hilda's house, one part 1950's Hollywood diner, and one part Old Florida Retirement Community Party Room. Camille's had also stolen my 1984 high school mix tape collection.

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We ordered mimosas and bacon bloody marys, diving into the menu with gusto.

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Matt had the carb cake benedict. No, that's not a typo. Sure, there were some crab cakes in there somewhere, but it was really a carb cake. Especially with that pile of cheesy delicious grits.

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I went for the omelet special which was loaded with sun dried tomatoes, bacon, asparagus, and lobster. It came with a side of perfectly toasted, buttered Cuban bread and crispy home fries.

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Then we all went home and took a nap.

I wish I was joking, but I'm not. It was only 10:00 a.m. and we needed a nap. This eating quest was wearing us out.

It was when I woke up from my late morning nap at Mango Cottage that Key West Hideaways got their final strike. We ran out of toilet paper.

Now....I am not one of these "high maintenance" rental people that has unrealistic expectations of a vacation rental. But when I pay $2471 to spend 3 days in a 765 square foot house.....I should not have to go buy my own toilet paper.

We were up and at 'em in time to ride our bikes to catch the 11:45 a.m. shuttle to the second KWFWF event I had purchased tickets to: The Hogfish Grill Shrimp Boil on Stock Island.

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I loved almost everything about the Shrimp Boil.

I loved the table of endless wine.

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I loved the appetizers of ceviche and coconut shrimp.

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I loved the giant bowl filled with amazing shrimp, lobster, sausage, corn, and potatoes topped with the most delightful cornbread square I have ever had the pleasure of eating. The food was FANTASTIC.

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I didn't like being seated at cheap, crappy tables with no shade in the broiling sun in the freaking parking lot. It was almost as "unclassy" as the Commotion on the Ocean. At least the boat had a band.

It had all the atmosphere of a potluck in the church fellowship hall or dinner at a table set up outside of Lowe's selling girl scout cookies.

We left on the first trolley.

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We wasted the afternoon sipping painkillers at the Rum Bar and eating shrimp and oysters at Half Shell.

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Now that they had seen a proper sunset, we wanted Steve and Alison to experience the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration. We headed that way just as the sun was making its way toward the horizon. It was the usual assortment of fortune tellers, fire eaters, magicians, and pigs in top hats. There were popcorn carts, mojito carts, and guys whacking into green coconuts so passers by could grab a straw and sip them as they watched a guy on a unicycle juggle swords.

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We hadn't made any plans for our final dinner. I like to leave the last night open so that we can see what catches our eye during the trip. What caught our eye was the promise of "all you can eat crab legs" at Camille's that morning.

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We should have felt ashamed. We had been eating about 8,000 calories a day. The last thing we needed was "all you can eat" anything unless it was Lipitor or a colonic.

That didn't stop us. We dove in with enthusiasm, like we had not already eaten 3 times that day. The crab legs were large, perfectly prepared, and Camille's was generous. Of course we all had to get at least two orders lest we violate the secret code of "all you can eatness" which says you must get at least 2 plates of whatever it is or be forced to spend the rest of your existence as a chump who didn't get her money's worth.

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We decided to go out in a blaze of glory. It was time for dessert.

We stopped at Better Than Sex Desserts on our way home.

Walking inside was like entering a whore house, but one that traded chocolate instead of sex. It was dark and sexy. You could catch glimpses of the red walls from the dim lighting cast by the ornate chandeliers.

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From our illuminated iPad menu, we chose our desserts. For Matt, that was their signature dessert, the "Better Than Sex," which looked like a deep, dark chocolate bread pudding. I ordered the "Jungle Fever." It was described as, "Smooth. Soft. Supple. A warm airy chocolate cake full of body that’s oozing a subtle chocolate pudding underneath. Rubbing up against cool white vanilla bean balls." And vanilla bean balls they were.....

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They also served wine in glasses rimmed with dark chocolate. The chocolate was soft and melty, but didn't slide down the glass. As Matt sipped, I figured out why it was so dark in here. When he looked up, he had a line of melted chocolate across his forehead from the glass. If they didn't dim the lights, no one would leave this place feeling sexy. Instead, they would look like a 4 year old that got into the Halloween candy without permission.

It was uniquely indulgent and delicious. I was a fan.

Who am I kidding? I am a fan of sugar. Period. It could be a cheap, stale donut on a paper plate in the Kroger parking lot and I'm going to like it.

But throw in some red walls and velvet curtains and you make my day.

Or night.

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I woke up the next morning knowing it was time to pack up and head home. It had been a ridiculously indulgent few days.

I decided to take a total body inventory to assess the damage.

My mouth felt dry, like I had spent the past 10 hours snacking on cotton balls. Woman can not live on wine alone, I supposed.

The back of my throat was a little sore. I attributed that to belting out Rocky Top loud enough for folks in Michigan to hear.

My chest felt normal, but that was only because the fat had not yet had a chance to harden and make it's way into the lining of my arteries. It just needed a little more time.

My stomach was physically protruding over the elastic band of my PJs. I could poke it. It felt soft. Much like I imagine the Pillsbury doughboy would feel if you could poke him for real.

My butt cheeks were sore. No doubt because my butt was at least two sizes bigger than it was when we arrived, which made my bicycle seat increasingly uncomfortable as the trip wore on.

I was very sleepy from going to bed at midnight and getting up at 6:00 a.m. every day to see the sunrise.

And, inexplicably, I was hungry.

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I'm back home now and I am paying the price of gluttony.

I'm not as young as I used to be. My 44 year old metabolism can't quite keep up with a 9,000 calorie a day diet. The only cure for the food vacation hangover is, of course, lots of deprivation and raw vegetables.

I’ll keep telling myself that the miles and miles we walked and biked more than made up for our obscene caloric intake, but really, deep inside, past the thick layers of adipose tissue, I know better.

Was it worth it? Was 3 days of gluttony worth this horrible kale and spinach juice that is serving as my lunch today?

Yeah. It was.

Bottoms up!

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Posted by vicki_h 07:29 Archived in USA Tagged food island tropical wine key_west kwfwf duval_street Comments (2)

What I Did On My Christmas Vacation.

Decking the Halls in Sapphire, NC

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For all our love of travel, Matt and I have NEVER gone away for Christmas. It’s just not what we do.

As a child, my family spent Christmas driving. We’d drive from our home to my grandparents in Tennessee, which was 4 hours in one direction. Then we’d load up and drive to my grandparents in Alabama, which was 4 hours in another direction. Instead of hot chocolate by the fireplace, my Christmas was more vinyl car seats and Waffle House.

This is why I declared, upon becoming an adult, that I WOULD SPEND CHRISTMAS AT MY HOUSE. ALWAYS.

It's a rule.

I decorate our big old Victorian house with all manner of glittery, twinkly, pine-scented things. I bake cookies. I make candy. I play Christmas music until Matt is singing Bing Crosby in his sleep.

Christmas is my thing.

So, when Matt asked if I’d be willing to go away for Christmas this year, I am pretty sure I started to hyperventilate.

Before I managed to work myself up into a full blown panic attack, I stopped to think what it might be like to go away. Maybe I could make this awesome? Maybe this could be even better than being at home? Was it possible?

Could I go away for Christmas?

After looking at hundreds of potential Christmas options, all of them wooing me with their cozy cabins and snow laden streets…..I decided on the mountains of North Carolina. In the end, being able to take the dogs and go somewhere we could drive to in case the weather was too bad to fly was more important than whether or not the destination guaranteed me a white Christmas, actual reindeer, or had “tap your own” maple syrup farms.

It was Christmas Eve and we were headed to Sapphire, NC.

Because we were driving into the mountains, I had stocked the car with anything we might need in the event of a snow storm: a shovel, sleeping bags, hats and gloves, a gallon of water, flares, and 18 granola bars.

Given that it was about 50 degrees outside, this was probably unnecessary.

What I should have packed were paper towels because we discovered on the winding, twisting, mountain roads that Rooby is prone to car sickness. She is also unable to hold her 5 month old bladder for 2 hours. We arrived at the cabin with Matt still trying to wipe the dog vomit off his arm with an old Dunkin Donuts napkin we found in the glove compartment. I arrived with a lap full of dog pee.

Things were off to a rough start.

But all that changed when we pulled up to the cabin.

I knew I had chosen the perfect place.

It was rustic, but luxurious. Crafted out of 150 year old hand hewn historic timbers salvaged from two old barns, one of which stood on the battlefield at Gettysburg prior to and during the Civil War. The other barn was built by Amish craftsmen. The salvaged materials were lovingly crafted into a cabin that can only be called a work of art.

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While Matt got a fire going in the enormous fireplace, I set up a Christmas tree that I had brought with us. The end result was cozy Christmas perfection.

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We had Christmas Eve Dinner reservations at Paoletti’s, an intimate Italian restaurant that has been a favorite in the small town of Highlands for over 28 years.

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I wasn’t sure how I would feel about eating out on Christmas Eve, but we threw on something festive and stepped out into the crisp December air.

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Paoletti’s was a warm and indulgent experience.

The restaurant was PACKED. All of the people made it lively and festive. There was warmth and laughter from every table. Candles glowed. Lights twinkled.

Seriously…..it was merry and bright! Corny, but true.

We started off with cocktails while we looked over the menu.

Dinner started with a tomato caprese, with fresh basil and balsamic, and an arugula salad with goat cheese and pecans. We followed the salads and cocktails with a bottle of red wine and some hearty pasta. I have a weakness for meaty red sauce, so I dove into the Spaghetti alla Bolognese while Matt opted for the Penne alla Vodka. We wrapped up the evening with tiramisu and chilled limoncello.

I genuinely thought I’d be a little sad that I wasn’t at home, but I can’t remember a Christmas Eve I enjoyed more.

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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We woke up to the smell of woodsmoke and had coffee and cocoa by the fire. The only thing that would have made it a more perfect Christmas morning was snow.

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Christmas Day was a warm and cozy affair. There were presents and new toys for the dogs. I baked cookies. We simmered mulled wine. We took a soak in the big teak tub on the porch beside a roaring fire.

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I made a big Christmas dinner: rolls with olive tapenade, a pear and goat cheese salad, green beans with bacon and mushrooms, honey glazed carrots, parmesan crusted mashed potatoes, and the two biggest filets I could find grilled perfectly on the outdoor barbecue.

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Oh, and don’t forget the red velvet cake with a giant layer of cheesecake filling that I made.

Oh yes I did.

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We wrapped up the night with snacks by the fire while we watched old Christmas movies.

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The next morning brought a beautiful clear sunrise over the mountains and a hearty breakfast by the fire.

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Thinking we would be cabin crazy by this point, we had decided to drive to Asheville for some massages, shopping, and food.

Things started off well with massages at the Grand Bohemian hotel spa in their rustic luxe surroundings.

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We followed that by the best barbecue known to man at 12 Bones in the River Arts District. It didn’t look like much, but any place with a line has to be good.

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Matt’s ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender and his smoked potato salad had chunks of smoked meat that made it maddeningly good. The jalepeno cheese grits were delicious. My pulled pork was so juicy it made my mouth water, making it hard to remember I also had mac and cheese and sweet vinegar cole slaw. The square of cornbread was so moist and so tender it was more like cake.

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My favorite had to be the wedge salad, though. The menu described it like this:

Iceberg wedge with sugar bacon, tomato, cucumber, fried onions & spicy ranch.

What it didn’t say was that there was a plethora of crispy bacon…..that it was drowning in the most savory, spicy dressing that has ever existed…..and that it was BURIED UNDER A MOUNTAIN OF FRIED ONIONS.

FRIED ONIONS, GUYS!!!!! A MOUNTAIN!

This ridiculous pile of awesomeness is only $5.

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Oh, wedge salad, will you marry me?

After the high of fried onions left us, things started to go downhill. Quickly.

Remind me NEVER to go to Asheville on the day after Christmas again.

Asheville, a tranquil bohemian downtown that I have come to love, was a thriving, fire breathing monster. There were so many bodies on the sidewalks, that you couldn’t move from one location to the next without getting jostled and shoved like you were trying to get the last loaf of bread at the Piggly Wiggly on a snow day.

It was horrifying.

We quickly cancelled our dinner reservations for that evening, ran screaming to the car, and made our way back to the peace and serenity of the cabin.

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Were we becoming home bodies?

Why yes, I think we were.

A few more days and we'd be spending all day in elastic waist sweatpants and eating Little Debbie's while we watched the Home Shopping Network.

The cabin called to us like a siren. We couldn’t escape it. It was warm. It was cozy. The fire crackled and the sun glowed on the horizon as it set over the softly rolling mountains. The dogs sat curled up on the floor chewing all their new toys at once.

It was just a wonderful place to be.

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So, instead of a dressed up night on the town at Limones in Asheville, I got creative and tried to figure out what to make from our Christmas leftovers.

Filet, mushrooms, green beans, and carrots were quickly sauteed in a skillet with some fresh rosemary I had from the potatoes:

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Cream and butter were added, along with some spices, to make it creamy:

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Then the parmesan mashed potatoes were placed on top, it was baked, and VIOLA!

A Shepherd's Pie, y'all.

Top that, Paula Deen.

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Oh.....and smoked salmon canapes!

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Not bad, if I say so myself. Maybe if Shelley Duvall has made Jack Nicholson something like this in the Shining, he wouldn't have gone cabin crazy and tried to murder them all.

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Another beautiful sunrise greeted us the next morning. We knew better than to make plans that didn’t include spending 95% of our day at the cabin, so…..we didn’t.

Matt chopped wood. We ran around in the woods with the dogs. We read by the fire.

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We made a quick run into Cashier’s for pizza and wine at Slab Town pizza. We even managed to stroll around in a few of the quaint shops before we literally ran back to the cabin.

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Seriously. We loved it there.

In hindsight, we should have just had our last meal at the cabin, but I had only brought enough food to make one meal and we had already managed to get two out of it. Three was simply out of the question unless we wanted sugar cookies and scrambled eggs for dinner.

We had made reservations at the Brown Trout, primarily because I saw lots of white twinkly lights and a fireplace when I searched it out online.

And it did indeed have lots of twinkly lights and a fireplace.

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Unfortunately, that is where the awesomeness ended.

The food was fine….spaghetti and meatballs for me (hey, there is nothing wrong with spaghetti, pizza, and spaghetti a 48 hour period….nothing…it was my Christmas and if I wanted to spend it eating spaghetti every day, I could) and the trout for Matt. It was good, not special, but good.

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The problem was that it took an hour and a half to get our meal served in this very uncrowded restaurant.

An hour and a half for average food is not fabulous. This is Matt's "I'm unimpressed" face:

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Maybe if my plate had been covered in fried onions when it arrived……

Our last morning dawned misty and cool. The fog rolled over the mountains and into the valley as we packed up Christmas and headed home.

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When all was said and done, did I like being away for Christmas?

So much that we are already planning for next year.

Happy New Year!

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Next up? We’re heading to Key West to EAT ALL THE FOOD.

Posted by vicki_h 13:40 Archived in USA Tagged mountains christmas highlands north_carolina asheville blue_ridge cashiers Comments (0)

An Impromptu Fall Road Trip

Sometimes you just need to pack up and go. No plans, no reservations, just pure spontaneity.

Nothing can make this happen faster than having plans to go somewhere else that fall through at the last minute.

That's what happened to us in October. We had planned a trip down to Abaco to soak in the last of the sun's rays before the chill season set in. Unfortunately, the day before our trip, we realized the weather down there was going to be crap. Rain, storms, rain, more storms, and then some rain.

After being stuck inside for 3 days thanks to Tropical Storm Arthur in July....I said "no thank you" to this repeat possibility.

Sure, we could have just cancelled and gone to work instead. But why the hell would we do that????? We had a few days off. I had to go somewhere.

It was a little past peak color season, but we decided to pack up the pooches and head to the mountains of NC. It's quick, it's easy, and I scored an amazing last minute deal on an absolute PALACE of a house.

First order of business is to introduce you to the newest member of the family. In order to do that, we must say goodbye to my absolute sweetheart, the best dog in the whole wide world, my favorite travel buddy Zoey who we lost in September.

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When we found out she was sick, we worried about Bella, so we got her a friend to help her transition. Best. Decision. Ever. This little bundle of sunshine saved us all. Say "hello" to Rooby:

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She's Shihtzu and Yorkie. I call that a shittie.

So, with no plans at all, we packed up Bella and her puppy. We were off to the mountains!!!!

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On the way, we stopped at the best hole-in-the-wall pizza place I have discovered to date. Hidden in the middle-of-nowhere, Smoky Mountain Bakers makes some of the most amazing artisanal pizzas and breads in their wood fired oven. And they do it all in what is a glorified garden shed.

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Bellies full of dough and cheese, we headed up winding mountain roads to find our home for the weekend. And what a home it was. This place was AMAZING. HUGE. GORGEOUS.

I wanted to live here forever.

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Two living rooms. A study. A huge deck with amazing views to forever.

Trying to choose from the FIVE gorgeous bedrooms was nearly impossible. I was tempted to sleep in a different room every night. I wanted to sleep in them all.

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We settled on the upstairs master. Not only because it was beautiful, but because it was the only bedroom on the main level. Little Rooby had not yet mastered the art of stairs. She was only 6 inches tall, after all.

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We got settled in and made sure we had the essentials. Yep. Booze and candy. We were set.

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The house was on a golf course and, despite the fact that it was a beautiful day, no one was playing, so we let the dogs run loose. Bella quickly let us know that she loves golf course grass and wants us to move.

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Rooby agreed.

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When you are surrounded by this much pure dog joy, how can you not feel happy?

All that golf course dashing worked off our pizza, so it was time to search out some dinner. In the 24 hours that I had to actually put this trip together, I had discovered that the Switzerland Inn, a cozy old fashioned mountain motel not far from where we were staying, had a Friday night seafood buffet with all you can eat crab legs.

All you can eat crab legs is the only thing Matt loves more than 50 cent Happy Hour Oysters.

The drive down was on the winding Blue Ridge Parkway. The peak color was past, but there was still some beautiful color left.

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When we found the Switzerland Inn, it took me back to my childhood. It was exactly the kind of place we would have stayed on a road trip with my parents, right after we had lunch at the Waffle House and stopped 7 times along the interstate so that my parents could threaten my brothers and I with severe bodily harm if we didn't stop fighting in the backseat.

It was quaint and homey and had a view that stretched across the mountains. The dining room was set up with a variety of stations that had large peel-and-eat gulf shrimp, several fish specialties, a prime rib carving station, various salads....but the belle of this ball was definitely the crab leg station.

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No one went to bed hungry that night.

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We woke up the next day to beautiful weather and decided to do nothing more than drive a scenic portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, taking in the Linville Viaduct and Moses Cone Park along the way.

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Then it was on to a boozy lunch at Bistro Roca in Blowing Rock. It had become a favorite stop of ours on previous trips. Lunch cocktails were followed by mussels and a spicy habi burger. Delish!

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The only proper way to follow a boozy lunch is to do some shopping. The quaint shops of Blowing Rock provided the perfect place to do just that.

I was grossly disappointed that no one told me it was costume day, though. A Wonder Woman costume would have rounded out the day nicely.

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We spent the afternoon relaxing by the fire at the house, letting Bella bounce on the golf course turf, and catching naps. It was a wonderfully lazy day.

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Dinner that night was at another of our favorite places in the area, Artisanal Restaurant in Banner Elk. The restaurant is not only beautiful, but the food is heavenly.

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We started things off with a couple of their house cocktails and a cast iron pan of deliciously buttery rolls.

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For a small plate I had the house made gnocchi.

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Next up for me was the quail. I love quail, but I hate the presentation of it. It just looks too much like....well....like a LITTLE BITTY BIRD. ON A PLATE.

But that didn't stop me from sucking the bones clean.

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Of course we had to have dessert.

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The next morning, we found ourselves faced with another beautiful day with absolutely no agenda.

We drove.

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We ended up at the Daniel Boone Inn. The huge line coming out the door and wrapping around the building told us the food inside must be good. We had nothing else to do, so we got in line.

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After about 45 minutes, we were ushered inside the old farmhouse and seated at a table. Bowls of food were brought out and covered the table. Fried chicken, biscuits with country ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, banana pudding, fried apples.....I now knew what that whole line thing had been about. We set about the business of stuffing our faces with country goodness.

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We waddled out of the Daniel Boone Inn fat and happy and full of mashed potatoes.

And we drove some more.

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When we found this pumpkin patch, I just had to get out for a photo.

I look insane here.

I blame in on all the mashed potatoes. I was high on carbohydrates.

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We kept driving.

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Before we knew it, we found ourselves at the Banner Elk Winery. Okay, it was no accident. We were in need a wine down afternoon. We grabbed a couple of bottles and sat outside in the glorious sunshine.

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After that, we all lapsed into a mashed potato and wine induced coma and napped the afternoon away.

We woke up in time for dinner. Yay!

We had reservations at the Gamekeeper Restaurant and were not sure where to find it. After driving an eternity into the pitch black darkness of nowhere, NC and winding forever and ever and ever up a lonely mountain road, we were certain the GPS was WRONG. Instead, we found ourselves at the coziest restaurant imaginable.

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The atmosphere was rustic and warm and the food was delicious. They specialize in game, so the boys were able to eat all the wild beasty things they wanted. They ordered a mixed game grill. Then they had some emu, bison, elk chops and god knows what else. I went tame with the cornmeal crusted rainbow trout with polenta and a caper salsa.

You know how sometimes things look a lot better in person than in a photo? Sometimes a food photo just doesn't work out. Blame it on the lighting, the four glasses of wine you had before trying to take a picture in the dark by lighting it up with your cell phone, what have you, but sometimes it's simply a FAIL. Despite the appearance of these photos, I did not, in fact, eat a plate of vomit, a bloody pile of grits and a tapeworm salad.

FOOD PHOTO FAIL

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It was time to head home, so we took the very scenic route home.

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Because this was a fantastically uneventful trip, but you, dear reader, have persevered through my blog nonetheless, I will reward you with the delightfulness of puppies running through leaves and baby cows, because really, what's better than that?

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Posted by vicki_h 12:33 Archived in USA Tagged fall autumn boone blue_ridge_parkway north_carolina banner_elk blowing_rock linville banner_elk_winery Comments (0)

Stepping Out of Bounds in Glacier National Park

Bonus! Video!

Posted by vicki_h 10:15 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (0)

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